• Holy Rollers: Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper Top Song Charts with Holy

    This weekend, Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper released “Holy,” a song that speaks to the personal and spiritual crises that many face during the current economic and health crises. The song relied on their Christian faith to send a message of hope and love, and reinforced their dedication to religiously-inspired music that connects hip-hop, pop, and gospel. While this may seem like a risky gamble in a musical culture dominated by secular themes, “Holy” has been a tremendous success in the day since it was released on this past Friday, September 18.


    According to Music Maven’s proprietary technology, which provides the most current and accurate data on the performance of all artists and songs in daily music charts, “Holy” is now the Most Streamed and Highest Earning Song. “Holy” has also raised Justin Bieber to near the top of the artist charts, third after the late Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke.


    On the first day after its release, “Holy” quickly rose to the top of the song charts with 6.1M streams and $9.5K. That is a significant feat because it doubled the song that has been dominant since its release on August 7, “WAP,” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion, now with 3.1M streams. “Holy” moved “WAP” to second place in both streams and revenue.


    The theme and presentation of the two songs is a study in sharp contrasts. While “WAP” is a rollercoaster celebration of sensuality and worldly pleasure by two female rappers, “Holy” is a relaxed celebration of religious spirituality as a solution to material pain by two male performers in the guise of holy rollers. While you probably will not hear “WAP” played at Sunday Service, “Holy” is Church music that could easily be covered by a gospel choir and find approval by those at worship in their Sunday Best.


    In some ways comparable to Kanye West’s invocation of spirit in his Sunday Service Choir, his Jesus is King album from last year, and his single from this past summer, “Wash Us in the Blood,” featuring Travis Scott, the Bieber-Chance collaboration on “Holy” is unabashed about rhythms and lyrics with specifically religious themes. The song’s popularity is also proof that such music and themes have a very wide listenership, at least when released by artists with extremely high musical recognition and appeal.


    This does not come out of nowhere. Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper have publicly defined and defended their Christian commitments, including through their music. Bieber was raised as an evangelical Christian, and was baptized six years ago by a Pentecostal minister affiliated with Hillsong, a megachurch based in Australia. Chance the Rapper has long performed with gospel choirs, integrated religious themes into his music, and considers himself a Christian rapper. Both Bieber and Chance have become close friends with Kanye West, and both have performed with this Sunday Service Choir. They may represent a trend among some of the most successful artists towards explicitly Christian pop music.


    The video of the song is just as important for understanding the song’s success. With over 19M views on YouTube since its release, it is now the third most trending video on the platform. This means that far more have seen the video than streamed the song on audio-only.


    The video for “Holy” features Bieber as a young oil worker and his partner, played by Ryan Destiny, a health care worker who serves the elderly in assisted living. After the local oil plant is shut down, Bieber’s character is laid off, then evicted with Destiny’s character from their motel. They are then left to roam the streets homeless, until a uniformed serviceman played by Wilmer Valderrama picks them up and welcomes them to his home and family for a warm meal. They hold hands, pray, and break bread. This strengthens the love between Bieber’s and Destiny’s characters, and gives them hope.


    With unemployment, including those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, in the tens of millions, many can relate to the music video’s scenes. The song and video both provide a poignant reminder of the human toll of this economic crisis. The song’s simultaneous portrayal of a spiritual search and offering of a religious solution helps explain why “Holy” is now the top song in the nation.


    By Vince, September 20, 2020

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